If you’re a B2B sales professional, you’ve undoubtedly established or been introduced to a traditional CRM process likely following these four stages: qualifying the prospect, presenting a solution, establishing fit, and then closing the deal. These opportunity stages have been a staple for years and are taken for granted as the seller’s stages to track and close new business. However, we all know the current sales process has changed due to more information and more power placed with the buyer.
The days of a prospect being willing to be led through a sales process are long over. Buyers have access to the exact same information as those selling. A great quote from Daniel Pink is a testament to this:
“Imagine a world not of information asymmetry, but of something closer to information parity, where buyers and sellers have roughly equal access to relevant information. Actually, stop imagining that world. You’re living in it.”
– Daniel Pink, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Persuading, Convincing, and Influencing Others
Effective buyer-focused selling today has shifted to adapting, guiding and adding value to a buyer’s journey versus hoping they will naively follow your process. Sellers who fail to recognize this shift of power are no longer making quota. So, if the more effective sales strategy is to help educate and facilitate the buyer’s journey, why not change the sales stages we use to guide and track the process? Recognizing these changes, Altus began changing our view of the opportunity stages to likewise be buyer-focused.
The funnel on the left is the traditional “seller-focused” opportunity stages. The funnel on the right is a more logical, “buyer-focused” opportunity stage model that actually reflects where the prospect is in the journey to purchase.
Planning your sales strategy around the buyer stages shown above will guide sellers to improve the conversation, listen intently, and teach the buyer something they do not know at each stage. In the new funnel, each stage features an honest dialog where the buyer plays an important and constructive role in the process. By communicating with the buyer in an authentic manner and specifically focusing on their unique needs, the seller becomes invaluable, trust is established and the seller stands out among the competition.
The objective of advancing through each stage is still the same, but there is a broader perspective, and a new-found awareness in using new sales tools, new content and strategies, which will ensure each stage is completed as a foundation for progression to the next. Stages are where the buyer has moved in the purchase process, not what tasks a sales representative has delivered (i.e. Demo, White Paper, Proposal).
Once a seller understands the buyer’s perspective and needs, not only does the sales process and dialog change but also the internal discussions and forecast reviews. Suddenly there is more clarity and accuracy because management understands where the buyer is in the process. Rather than simply relying on probabilities derived from past client status and activity-based stage probabilities, sellers should evaluate opportunities based on “urgency of customer need, pain levels, solution fit, the business justification, our current and past relationships with the account, and the process the customer will use to make a buying decision.” – David Brock, author of Sales Manager Survival Guide: Lessons From Sales’ Front Lines. Management will then have a better buyer perspective and further, the conversion metrics between each stage will illuminate opportunities for modification. This entire process helps companies prioritize and improve tools that can support sales where the stage ratios are low.
While most all CRM solutions come out of the box with seller-focused stages, fortunately most are easy to customize and convert to the stages you believe are consistent with your buyers thought process. I personally adjusted to this approach within our own sales process and I have established buyer-focused selling stages for each of my clients. In each and every case, they fully embraced the process and happily acknowledged the benefits.
Depending on your sales team’s culture, you can still be granular with your stages. The key is to ensure each stage is developed upon the current state of the prospective client, not what steps or activities you have performed as a seller.